We heard last month that the Steelers were expected to put the franchise tag on Le’Veon Bell this offseason, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported today that Pittsburgh will indeed franchise their star running back.
The tag will be about $12.3MM for running backs, and after the Steelers use it on Bell, the two sides will have a few months to work out a long-term contract. If they cannot, Bell could play out the 2017 season under the tag and be eligible for free agency again next offseason.
There are complications to a multi-year deal, of course. Bell has a history of off-field trouble, having been been suspended in each of the past two seasons, and he sustained knee injuries in 2014 and 2015. But when he’s on the field, he’s one of the most dynamic playmakers in the game, both as a runner and as a receiver. Despite missing four games this season, Bell ranked first in the NFL in touches per game (28.0) and scrimmage YPG (157.0), and he was second in rushing YPG (105.7). From Weeks 4-16–Bell was suspended for the first three weeks of the season and was rested for the team’s meaningless Week 17 contest–he led the NFL in touches (336) and scrimmage yards (1,884).
It appears that the Steelers are comfortable with Bell’s health and they seem to believe that his off-field issues are behind him, as a long-term deal is considered likely at this point. While Bell is unlikely to reach Adrian Peterson’s record-setting $14MM/year deal, he stands an excellent change of netting an eight-figure annual salary.
Per Rapoport, the Steelers also want to extend wide receiver Antonio Brown, who is under club control for one more season. Brown’s exceedingly club-friendly deal will pay him just $4.7MM next year, quite a bargain for arguably the best receiver in the game. But with substantial raises for Bell and Brown on the horizon, Pittsburgh will need to make some tough decisions elsewhere.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.